By Brad Ziemer
KELOWNA — Golf professionals are forever tinkering with some part of their game and Robby Shelton seems to be on to something.
Shelton was draining birdie putts all day during Thursday’s first round of the GolfBC Championship at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club. The 21-year-old from Mobile, Ala., made nine of them en route to an eight-under 63 that gave him a one-shot lead in the $175,000 Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada event.
“I’ve been playing well in my practice rounds,” Shelton said after his round. “I kind of figured something out with my putting. . .I kind of changed my grip a little. I tinkered with it after the last tournament, and I don’t know — something clicked.”
Now he hopes it keeps clicking. Shelton and everyone else in the field knows it figures to take a low number to win this week. In last year’s inaugural event, Dan McCarthy of Syracuse, N.Y., shot 25-under over four rounds and won by seven shots.
“When you get off to a start like this, for sure your expectations are high, but you still have to play really well, or these guys are going to catch you,” Shelton said.
Shelton has been a pro for about a year. He left the University of Alabama after his junior year and he won the Mackenzie Tour’s first qualifying school in Florida this past spring to gain full status.
He arrived at Gallagher’s Canyon having played well in the first two events of the season. Shelton tied for 20th at the season-opening Freedom 55 Financial Open at Point Grey Golf & Country Club and last week tied for 14th at the Bayview Place Cardtronics Open at Uplands Golf Club in Victoria.
Not surprisingly, his early impression of Gallagher’s Canyon is positive.
“It’s a lot different than Alabama golf, but it’s a lot of fun,” Shelton said. “It’s not a lot of drivers. It’s a little different, but the greens are always good.” Shelton is trying to do what his good friend, Lee McCoy, did two weeks ago at Point Grey.
“Seeing Lee win the first event was great. He won by eight – that’s incredible. I’ve played with him, we play practice rounds together, I’ve played with him since we were five years old. This tour’s deep. There’s a lot of good players. You have to play well. A lot of these guys out here could make it on the PGA Tour right now. It’s a process and a stepping stone, and a lot of guys have to get through it.”
While Shelton arrived in Kelowna playing well, the same could not be said for Evan Bowser. The Dearborn, Mich., resident missed the cut in Vancouver and Victoria while shooting a combined 11-over par. On Thursday at Gallagher’s Canyon, he was seven-under through his first 12 holes. He finished with a seven-under 64 and sits alone in second place.
“I hadn’t been playing good coming in, but I know I have the game to compete out here so I was thinking just keep doing what you are doing, stay relaxed,” Bowser said. “I kind of let my mind get ahead of me the last couple of weeks, so I stayed in the moment here today. It was pretty easy. I felt I could work the ball both ways and I hit a lot of good shots.”
Four players — Chase Wright of Muncie Ind., Kramer Hickok of Austin, Tex., Kyle Peterman of Springfield, Ill., and Matt Gilchrest of Greenwich, Conn., were tied for third after opening with six-under 65s.
Jamie Sadlowski of St. Alberta, Alta., was the low Canadian after the first round. The former two-time world long-drive champion shot a five-under 66 and enters Friday’s second round tied for seventh.